Vesicle size distributions in vent lavas from the Pu'u'O'o-Kupaianaha eruption of Kilauea volcano are used to estimate nucleation and growth rates of H2O-rich gas bubbles in basaltic magma nearing the earth's surface (≤120 m depth). By using well-constrained estimates for the depth of volatile exsolution and magma ascent rate, nucleation rates of 35.9 events ⋅ cm-3 ⋅ s-1 and growth rates of 3.2 x 10-4 cm/s are determined directly from size-distribution data. The results are consistent with diffusion-controlled growth as predicted by a parabolic growth law. This empirical approach is not subject to the limitations inherent in classical nucleation and growth theory and provides the first direct measurement of vesiculation kinetics in natural settings. In addition, perturbations in the measured size distributions are used to examine bubble escape, accumulation, and coalescence prior to the eruption of magma.

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